Monday, December 24, 2007

beautiful beautiful beauty

I’ve been reading Dick Russell’s Eye of the Whale to learn about the gray whale. Next spring we will be visiting Baja’s San Ignacio Lagoon where the grays breed and give birth. During research for the book Dick Russell became fascinated by the former whaling captain, Charles Scammon. In the 19th Century Scammon wrote the first book on gray whales and many of his observations remained until very recently the best testimony on their behavior.

I grew up in Sebastopol. On page 593 I learned Captain Scammon was an early resident. After he retired from the sea Scammon, “his wife, and two of their sons moved more than seventy-five miles away from San Franciso not long after [his whale] book came out. Scammon had purchased a small apple farm in Northern California’s Sonoma County, in the rural hamlet of Sebastopol.”

Russell quotes an 1888 history of the county: “Among the noticeably beautiful residence properties in Analy Township is that of [Captain Scammon] … Captain Scammon purchased the land in 1874 and commenced its improvement in the same year, building a beautiful and convenient cottage residence and suitable outbuildings. … The view from his study window is one of surprising beauty, overlooking as it does the Laguna with its placid waters and the beautiful meadows on the lower plateau. … In fruit culture he confines himself to a family orchard and vineyard, in which he has some of the most valuable and improved varieties of fruit and table grapes grown in Sonoma County.”

Eventually he sold the farm and moved to Oakland.

Sebastopol is still known for apples. And for grapes, though wine rather than table. My mother participated in efforts to preserve what remained of a Laguna probably much reduced by drainage and landfill from what it was in Scammon’s day.

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